The University of Strathclyde has won an appeal to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) to preserve a key patent protecting its revolutionary HINS-light technology.

Following a three-year legal battle, the CAFC reversed a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and ruled that a Strathclyde patent on using light as a disinfectant was wrongly invalidated.

Important patent

The decision strengthens the enforceability of this important patent in the U.S lighting market.

The innovative technology was developed in the University’s state-of-the-art Robertson Trust Laboratory for Electronic Sterilisation Technologies (ROLEST) by Professor Scott MacGregor, Professor John G Anderson, Dr Michelle Maclean and Professor Gerry Woolsey.

The High Intensity Narrow Spectrum (HINS) light technology can inactivate harmful bacteria such as MRSA in the air and on surfaces using a narrow spectrum of visible light. The light-based disinfection method operates at a wavelength where it can be run safely in the presence of humans and provides significantly greater reductions of bacterial pathogens in the environment than can be achieved by conventional cleaning techniques.

Huge step

The discovery signalled a huge step forward in hospitals’ ability to prevent the spread of infection and it was developed for commercialisation around 15 years ago.

Lighting manufacturers worldwide license the technology from Strathclyde, including Kenall and Hubbell, which are both headquartered in the U.S.

In the University’s appeal case, the CAFC overturned a prior ruling by the PTAB that the University’s patent claims for the method of photoinactivating antibiotic-resistant bacteria without using a photosensitizer were unpatentable.

Precedential opinion

In a precedential opinion, the CAFC ruled that earlier prior art publications—cited by U.S-based Clear-Vu Lighting to the PTAB—did not render the University’s technology unpatentable.

The CAFC ruled that “the prior art evidence[d] only failures to achieve that at which the inventors succeeded,” leaving the PTAB’s findings unsupported by substantial evidence, thereby reversing the PTAB’s decision, preserving the University’s patent rights.

Professor MacGregor, Vice-Principal of the University of Strathclyde and leader of the HINS-light research team said:

“The University is pleased that the Federal Circuit has recognised the innovative and award-winning efforts of its researchers in ROLEST.”

“The patented HINS-light technology has proven to be a valuable resource in the fight against harmful bacteria and in preventing the spread of infection.

“The University looks forward to continued innovation and licensing in this area.”   

Strathclyde was represented in the U.S legal action by international law firm, Alston & Bird LLP.

The CAFC is one of the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal that sit below the U.S Supreme Court and has exclusive jurisdiction for all patent appeals from U.S. district courts and the PTAB.